self improvement

Are You Carrying Extra Baggage?

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Is your self-doubt getting in the way of you achieving personal success?

Recently, I got an email, asking me to undertake some work which took me a bit out of my comfort zone. It was something I hadn’t done before, and I felt my hands reach over to the keyboard in front of me to write back immediately with a “thanks, but no thanks” response. I will admit, I felt a bit anxious even considering the prospect and how I would even unpack how to start.

But instead of typing an immediate response, I sat back in my chair and reflected on my gut reaction and my “baggage” getting in the way of me accepting this challenge. 

If we are going to develop Mental Toughness and especially our Control C involving our emotional regulation and self-control, our Confidence C involving our personal and interpersonal confidence and the Challenge C allowing us to take risks and view challenges as opportunities and not threats, we find ourselves having to question what “baggage” we carry around with us on a daily basis.

•      Do you have self-doubt?

•      Are you carrying blame?

•      Are you worrying about all the things you can’t control?

•      Do you feel like an imposter?

•      Do you see challenges as threats?

•      Are your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) crawling all over you?

Or does your luggage allow easy accessibility to your values, strengths, and skills?

Do you recognise the mindset you have and consider embracing a growth mindset? Do you:

•      Stop before you react?

•      Understand what’s in your way?

•      Consider what you are saying to yourself that’s getting in your way?

•      Consider what others are saying to you that gets in your way?

•      Recognise what you can and can’t control?

•      Consider what you are afraid of and how you could combat the fear?


So when considering your personal baggage or the interference you have getting in the way of emotional control, interpersonal confidence, and the ability to accept a challenge, consider some opportunities to move forward.

1)   Recognise your emotional response.

“If you name it, you can tame it”. One of the best opportunities to manage our emotional responses, is to first identify what we are actually experiencing and why. Try considering what it is you are actually feeling and what is the thought you have that is fuelling that emotional response.

2)   Recognise when your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) are crawling all over you.

When it comes to situations we find intimidating, we often have gut reactions and a specific automatic thought fuelling this reaction. Some examples of ANTs might include:

Over Generalising

Draw conclusions on limited evidence and make sweeping negative conclusions that go way beyond the current situation. “Nothing good ever happens to me”, “nothing ever works”

All or Nothing Thinking

You view situations in only two categories instead of on a continuum, often called “black and white” thinking. “If I’m not a total success, then I must be a failure”, “either I do it right, or not at all”


You predict the future negatively without considering more likely outcomes “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all”.

Disqualifying the Positive

Discounting the good things that happen or that you have done for some other reason, “that doesn’t count”, “I was just lucky”.

Mind Reading

You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other possible scenarios, “he’s thinking I don’t know the first thing about this project”.

“Should and Must” Statements

You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met, “it’s terrible that I made that mistake, I should always produce the best work”.

So how can you consider turning your ANTs into PETs (Performance Enhancing Thoughts)?

3)   Reframing

Often, we can be “below the line”. We can engage in negative thinking, we get defensive, we use negative language and over time this can drag us down.

Reframing is a powerful, yet simple technique to move ourselves from below the line to above the line in our thinking, our language, our attitude and our behaviour.

It involves taking a negative statement and reframing it in a positive question to self to prompt a change in thinking.


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Consider the steps:

1.   Identify the negative word in the statement. Eg, “hard”

2.   Think about the opposite (positive) word. Eg, “Easy”

3.   Now frame this positive or opposite word into a question with how, who, what, when or where (never use why – it just encourages more below the line thinking)

Once you master reframing, it can become part of your normal questioning of self to manage your personal baggage.

4)   Consider Your Values and Strengths

Based on your Values and your strengths, could you consider what actions you could take? Have you tapped into your strengths and values to recognise what you could do to take just one step forward? What are your options? What resources have you got? How could you use one of your strengths to compensate for any perceived weakness?

5)   Adopt a growth mindset.

Staying in your comfort zone will never result in any personal growth. You have to push yourself to step into a state of complexity to ever have new experiences and new growth opportunities. This obviously takes effort. But remember…… what dictates the size of a goldfish? The answer?....... the size of the bowl!!

Want to know more about developing your mental toughness and addressing your “baggage”? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching and training.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Leadership and Wellbeing Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or



Could Social Anxiety be Related To Character?

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As a Psychologist, I am always considering new ways to approach the assistance I provide to clients. I often find anxiety and more specifically social anxiety an issue which impacts many and from time to time we can all experience different levels of these symptoms.

It was therefore with great interest that I reviewed this recent article from Ryan Niemiec in Psychology Today about the potential relationship between social anxiety and character strengths.

Take it away Ryan:

When you hear the phrase "social anxiety",” you probably think of negative-oriented words like fearful, scared, and afraid. Mental health professionals who diagnose social anxiety disorder will look for a “persistent social fear,” “fear of performance situations,” “fear of being around new people,” "fear of embarrassing oneself,” and a “fear of being criticised by others.”

These represent a deficit-based approach—it is exclusively looking at what's wrong or weak. This is an unbalanced approach, yet still remains the mainline approach used in psychology and counselling and across the medical field in general.

Is this the only way to look at social anxiety?

A new study says, “No.” One of the important findings to emerge from the science of character is that not only do human beings have 24 character strengths that boost well-being but that these strengths are not always used to our benefit. It is possible to overuse any of your character strengths. For example, if you use too much curiosity by asking your shy colleague one too many questions, they might start to view you as nosey and bothersome. Conversely, you can underuse your character strengths. For example, if you never give money to an important work charity, year after year, your colleagues might come to view you as low in generosity or underusing your strength of kindness.

Back to social anxiety disorder. How might the underuse and overuse of character strengths be operating here?

Pavel Freidlin and Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, and I investigated this question. We developed a new test called Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU) Survey of Strengths and gave it to people with and without a social anxiety disorder. While there were many interesting findings, one in particular stuck out to me. It turns out a unique combination of six overuses/underuses of strengths could be used to identify people with the disorder from those without (with over 87% accuracy!). This is the first actual study of character strength overuse/underuse to be published.

Here are the six overuses/underuses, along with an explanation of why they are relevant to social anxiety (they are not listed in any order of importance):

1.) Overuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are analysing your thoughts and feelings too much. You might also be quick to over-analyse the intentions and actions of others.

How this relates to social anxiety: You are probably giving extra attention to your nervousness and worry and less attention to more balanced thoughts and other feelings (such as excitement, interest, and hope). For example, you might see a hand gesture or expression on someone’s face and come to an immediate conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you.

2.) Overuse of humility

What it means: You have little interest in talking about yourself or any of your accomplishments. When people praise you for doing something good, you feel uncomfortable and awkward and say little to nothing.

How this relates to social anxiety: Humility is an important strength and can have social benefits. However, too much humility in certain situations can lead to depriving others of learning about you. If people can’t learn about you, it’s hard for them to connect with you, which can subsequently contribute to sub-optimal social situations.

3.) Underuse of zest

What it means: If others perceive you as coming across without even a moderate amount of energy, you might be perceived as uninterested or lacking in enthusiasm. Zest is one of the character strengths most connected with happiness, so in some situations, you might even come across as “unhappy.”

How this relates to social anxiety: In order to contribute to social situations, you need to express energy. If you are bringing forth too little of energy, you won’t contribute as much. This underuse feeds your “avoidance” mechanism which is a problem because "avoidance of fear" is a hallmark feature of all types of anxiety. Socially anxious people avoid what they are afraid of, which further perpetuates the cycle of anxiety. Underuse of zest feeds this process.

4.) Underuse of humour

What it means: In some social situations, you are especially serious and don't smile, joke, laugh, or see the lighter side of things. While that might be appropriate behaviour at times, there are situations where humour is particularly important—take, for example, socializing with friends or co-workers at a restaurant.

How this relates to social anxiety: Socially, humour and playfulness are kings (or queens). People generally want to be around funny or playful people. They want to laugh and have a good time. If you underuse humour in social situations, you are essentially eliminating one of the main pathways to connecting and socializing with others.

5.) Underuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are not particularly attuned to your own feelings or the feelings of others. You pay little attention to social cues, body language, or the circumstances of the social situation you are in.

How this relates to social anxiety: Social situations often require a subtle and nuanced level of awareness of feelings and circumstance. People unaware of their own feelings, unable to speak appropriately to those feelings, unaware of how others might be feeling, or unaware of how to query and discuss others’ feelings are at a significant disadvantage. Furthermore, those who sense this reality within themselves are prone to feel more anxious about this disconnect. People with social anxiety may also misinterpret cues or misread body language, further contributing to the problem.

6.) Underuse of self-regulation

What it means: You have some difficulties in managing your reactions to others or in managing your feelings or personal habits. You may come across as lacking discipline (in your speech and behaviour).

How this relates to social anxiety: The best social interactions involve a balanced back and forth of questioning, sharing, and communicating. If your self-regulation is particularly low in these situations, you may appear insensitive to others. This can impact the interaction and contribute to anxiety.

Taking action:

1.) The first step is awareness. If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, what is it like for you (or for them) to look at anxiety in this way? The best course of action with this new research is to reflect on how you might be overusing or underusing these particular character strengths in social situations. This will lead you to new insights and ideas for taking action.

2.) Think about social anxiety from the lens of overuse and underuse. This does not mean you have to get rid of deficit-based thinking or attending to symptoms and other parts that feel “wrong” about you. Instead, you now have an empowering language and a new lens for looking at this challenge.


There are different subtypes of social anxiety disorder that have not been addressed in this article. These are quite wide-ranging, for example, there are social fears involving eating in restaurants, giving presentations, and using public restrooms, to name a few. Thus, the overuse/underuse of these character strengths will need to be adapted accordingly.

Remember, this is a new study so it is important to have these findings replicated in additional studies. If these findings above are also found in future research, this could lead to new treatment approaches to this relatively common and painful condition.

Check out the full article here.

Want to know more about gaining strategies to understand your character strengths. Send me an email at to enquire about building your potential to maximise and manage your strengths.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at or


Girls, Are You Flexing Your Confidence Muscle?

I was in Sydney over the weekend and after attending some meetings, I was killing some time shopping (yes I know one of my favourite past times). I went into the Gap and was wandering through looking at the clothes and because a close friend has just announced his wife is having a baby, I decided to look at the kids clothes. My kids have all got too big for me to buy in this section, so it was a bit of a treat to look at all the cute baby and toddler clothes.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw this great T-Shirt for a little girl in a cute baby pink. But what got me was the quote emblazoned across the front. It said:



Not 2 weeks before, I had been listening to Amy Cuddy (Social Psychologist at Harvard Business School) speak about Presence. It made me feel very inspired to see that finally here was a girl’s T-Shirt that didn’t have a fairy or a princess on the front, but had a much stronger message (even if it was still in baby pink).

Research has identified that when girls and boys aged 6 are shown a unisex doll posed in a powerful position they will identify this as a male doll. And boys and girls shown a unisex doll in a submissive pose will identify it as a girl. We need to teach our girls to stand strong and tall. We need to teach them that you don’t have to be small and submissive to fit in. We need to teach our girls to stand more like superheros. We need to teach them that when you stand tall and with confidence, you actually draw people toward you naturally.

We need to teach our girls this, but we also need to remind us big girls how important confidence is as well. Are we as women, flexing our confidence muscles enough?

One of the 4Cs of Mental Toughness is Confidence (alongside Control, Commitment and Challenge). The Confidence C defines the extent to which you have self-belief, self-confidence, confidence in your own abilities as well as interpersonal confidence.

Do you have belief in your own abilities?

Can you influence others, especially during conflict and challenge?

Do you have inner strength and stand your ground during challenges?

Consider a few questions to be asking yourself which can raise your opportunity to flex your confidence muscle a lot more often:

·        Am I aware of my strengths?

·        Am I using my strengths everyday?

·        What is standing in my way?

·        What are my options?

·        How can I……?

·        Who can help me?

·        Do I act like I mean it?

·        Do I visualise the outcome I want to achieve?

·        Do I just take action?

Just a hint, if you want to focus on flexing your confidence muscle, don’t ask yourself “Why” questions, they only bog you down and keep you “below the line” and focus on reasons why you can’t. Focus on the “how”, “what”, “who” and “where” questions and you are on your way to staying focused on solutions.

And remember one of my favourite Amy Cuddy quotes:

“Stop focusing on the impression you are having on others.

Start focusing on the impression you are having on yourself”

Want to know more about increasing building your confidence muscle? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching to build your self-confidence and your interpersonal confidence.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or






Is Resilience Enough?

Building resilience

Building resilience

Everywhere you go within organisations today, leaders are discussing opportunities to increase their resilience and that of their team. Leaders want their teams to be able to “bounce back” and manage adversity much more effectively. Many are preaching to us about creating resilient individuals and a resilient workforce. But is resilience alone really enough?

Is it simply enough to recover after adversity strikes? Is it enough to simply “survive”? Or should we be setting the bar much higher? How can we actually THRIVE in a constantly changing environment? The current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape we live and work in means that we not only have to respond when adversity strikes us, we have to be able to thrive within a landscape where challenges and change are constant. The question is, are leaders and their teams equipped to deal with this “new normal”? Leaders need to be confident to be able to manage constant challenges and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. For this we need more than resilience, we need Mental Toughness.

Mental Toughness incorporates the concept of resilience but adds in two very important additions. These additions are our confidence and our ability to not only manage and thrive in challenging circumstances, but to see challenge as an opportunity.

A Mentally Tough individual is focused on making things happen without being distracted by their own or other peoples’ emotions. Research demonstrates high mental toughness explains up to 25% of the variation in attainment with respect to performance. Mentally Tough individuals are generally more engaged, more positive and have a more “can do” attitude. They also report higher levels of well being, better stress management and less bullying and are more positive to change.

Mental Toughness can now be measured using the MTQ48. This is a valid and reliable psychometric tool which only takes 8-10 minutes to complete and provides a profile of overall mental toughness as well as scores on the 4Cs of Control, Commitment, Confidence and Challenge.

Leaders now have the opportunity to enhance their skills to embrace change and challenges and thrive in a VUCA environment and in turn, they can then assist their team to build these characteristics through dedicated training and coaching.

Want to know how to build your Mental Toughness and that of your team? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching and training to develop Mental Toughness in your team.